Tuesday, 10 February 2009


“While I enjoy the friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a burden to me.”
Thoreau, Walden

You can’t really plan your life here in the same way as you can in a city. It has been raining most of this week. Heavy rain. Parts of the land look like day three at Glastonbury festival. So that prevented me from working on various tasks which required me to be outside. The weather has a big impact on this kind of lifestyle.

Like Paul Simon, I get all the news I need on the weather report. Well, I would if I had a TV. And could speak Catalan.

I have taken to writing lists. I don’t estimate how long something will take, because you can’t. And I don’t think ‘Tomorrow I will do X and the day after I will finish off Y’, because you never know. I just write a list and then work through it as best I can, when I can.

You need a lot of patience here. Patience is one of the six ‘perfections’ in a particular strand of Buddhism (the Prajnaparamita tradition for those of you interested in chasing this up and finding out what the other five are). By patience, Buddhism means something like ‘remaining in a positive mental state when faced with obstructive conditions’. The three things that Buddhism suggests one specifically needs to cultivate patience towards are:

1. illness
2. other people, and
3. the weather.

It seems that in some ways, things haven’t changed that much in the last two thousand years!

Anyway, this week I have been trying to cultivate patience towards the bleeding weather. Again. Not unlike my comrades in the UK. I understand you have had a spot of snow? :-)

On the upside, this has meant that I have been writing some new music and having some new thoughts.

With regard to time, and having more of it, I have been thinking that this life would work better with a few more people around (though see point 2 above). I can see why tribes form. A lot of work benefits from economies of scale. For example, you can cook for four people without lots more effort than cooking for one. And while you are cooking, the other three can be off doing work that you would otherwise have to do. And a fire uses the same amount of wood to heat four people as it does to heat one. It seems clear to me that the individual, the couple, and even the nuclear family, are not big enough units to be living in. A few families and a few generations living together and sharing the load makes much more sense.

The trouble is, I am riddled with individualism. I like the idea of living as part of a community, and having a bunch of people around to share the work and share the evenings with. I like the idea of having kids around and elders. But I like my space and my freedoms too.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. As a culture, I think we are going to have to go beyond the cult of the individual – everyone having at least one of everything, and preferably one that’s slightly different from the neighbours’ (‘which mobile phone expresses who I would like people to think I really am?’). It is wasteful of course, and it requires us to work harder and longer, but the other thing about it is I don’t think it makes us very happy.

I think really, you have to get your hands dirty with life. You have to dive in and get involved. The trouble is, we’re too busy seeing others as objects in our subjective experience, and expending our effort on trying to maintain the illusion that we are everything the advertisers say we ought to be.

The inevitable shit that needs to be worked through in our relationships doesn’t get worked through because people don’t want to really be changed by life. They don’t really want to be part of something. When it impinges on our sense of self (which often gets called our ‘ego’ these days), the current trend is to just walk off. And that way we don’t end up with the feeling of connection that we crave. The sense of belonging. Of being home.

We rattle around the world buying things and looking for an instant hit. If we are not in 100% happy mode all the time we feel that we must simply not have got the right stuff yet, or not be with the right person, or not be hanging out in the right scene, or that there is something wrong with us. And the advertisers rub salt in our wounds because these insecurities are good for business.

According to the Buddha, suffering, or at the very least, dissatisfaction, is an inherent quality of unawakened existence. The dissatisfaction is caused by craving for X and trying to avoid Y all the time. If the world does not conform to our present desires, and if it does not change its configuration in exactly the same rhythm and direction as our desires change, we experience dissatisfaction. It doesn’t take a genius to spot the propensity for dissatisfaction built into this set up.

So the trick is to go beyond the rushing around after X and taking out law suites against Y. It’s about cultivating contentment with how things are, trying to move things in your desired direction, while at the same time being patient and finding enjoyment in the process.

That’s the theory anyway. Putting it into practice can take a while.

I guess one of the reasons I tend to write sad songs is that this side of our experience tends not to be shared with others. We slap on a smile and feel isolated and alone. I’ve always written songs to get that out of me. And I chose to release them to the public because hearing songs like that has saved my poor heart on more than one occasion. So I hope maybe I can return the favour.

But don’t forget the songs that made you cry
And the songs that saved your life
And when you’re dancing and laughing and finally living
Hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly.


Captain Svejk said...

Ah, patience. That comes in useful here in the city because it seems in remarkably short supply sometimes.

I've found your reflections on Thoreau very inspiring. Having witnessed street violence (both spontaneous and that organised by the state) here in Athens, it really does make me wonder where all this civilisation thing is leading. Is "technology" a curse or a saviour?

I found an article by a guy called David Loy that makes some interesting points about the role of intention in shaping the manifestation of technology and ideas:


I'm thinking very much that the existing profit & growth system is a very bad model for handling the development of technology. It promises funding and boasts of achievements, but the corrupting influence of greed never goes far away and thus every development is shadowed by negative consequences.

The only solution, so it seems, is to start playing around with the alternatives...

So keep up the good work!

jason palmer said...

Do you need to boil that water before you drink it ?

Have you got a copy of 'the sas survival guide' ?

Padma said...

Hi Captain - thanks for your input - and for the Loy article. I totally agree with what you say about the profit motive not being a good driver for technological change! One example is the design of planes. Apparently the knowledge has been around for ages to make planes 80% more fuel efficient. But the market up to now hasn't wanted efficient. It has wanted fast. So that's what we've got.

And Jason - well, it is a risk I suppose. I have decided to take certain risks in my life in order to test certain ideas and potentials. But the risks are calculated and I try not to be reckless in my experiments!

I have been drinking that water for a good few days now and am still fine. The locals think it is fine to drink so I am going with it for now.

I guess we have to remember that we are in the end animals, and people lived for millenia without copper piping, so I guess I am not the first to drink water out of a hole in the ground and survive.

I do wonder what the inside of the average domestic water tank looks like too! And what kind of journey (and through what) the water has made before it gets to the taps of people in the city.

jason palmer said...

yea, they reckon the roman emperors went mad due to lead piping

mangadezi-jr said...

I was just checking out a "best of" compilation of Morrisey's and the Smith's--that's funny . . .